In: analog photography

Sandy Fairbairn | ART, Road Closed | Welland, April 5 2014
January 19, 2024

Sandy Fairbairn | ART, Road Closed | Welland, April 5 2014

Four years ago, just as Covid – 19 was beginning to move across the world, an exhibition of Sandy Fairbain‘s artworks that I curated at AIH Studios in Welland opened. These selections from the photographer’s extensive archive were focused upon the city of Welland and were collectively titled Welland : Times Present Times Past. Originally planned to run from February 15th to March 15th 2020, lockdowns and access became an issue, but I take joy in a local writer describing it as one of the most important exhibitions in that city, of the decade. There were also works that acknowledged the major role that Welland played in the history of labour rights in Canada, that were more sculptural, but that’s a story for another time (or seek out the book Union Power : Struggle and Solidarity in Niagara that is a fine history of the space, before we acquiesced to the ‘dogma’ of ‘trickle down economics’ and the liars Mulroney, Thatcher and Reagan, ahem).

This image was one of the more unique ones in that show, differing formally from Fairbairn’s usual straight on shots of buildings and edifices, reminiscent of ‘mug shot architecture’, if you will. But perhaps it might be better described as ‘morgue’ photos, as when we hung the show there were many captures of the same space, from decade to decade, and many times the sites were now demolished and empty….

I must add that as COVID took hold, I was in Welland for a longer time than I had planned to be there, with Fairbairn’s exhibition, and with the vagaries of lockdown I got to know the city late at night or early in the morning, a sense of itself that is not the ‘official’ kind.

Conceptually, this image offers both amusement and cynicism simultaneously. As someone who is soon to mark a decade of being part of the cultural community of Niagara, I could also add that it has resonance in terms of endeavours both planned and aborted, envisioned and stuttered, that have defined [and deformed] the cultural landscape of not just the city of Welland, but the larger Niagara Region.

So like any fine artwork, my interpretation of it changes depending upon when I see it, and the experiences I bring to it, and thus it shifts just as I do (perhaps in tandem, perhaps in opposition). To flip back to a more literal meaning from a conceptual one, my own attitudes about art initiatives within the space of Niagara have also changed, and spurred my decision to feature this work.

One hopes and works to foster artistic and cultural initiatives but finds the road closed, if you will. There are a variety of talks about ‘cultural revitalization plans’ in Niagara, but as this is the space that let a nationally recognized public art gallery go, with barely a whimper and now ignorant celebration of the ’boutique hotel’ that has taken it’s place, I shall reserve my enthusiasm…..but, to offer a positive point as we end, the push to have an Art Gallery of Welland is also moving forward, slowly but surely, and that effort is not without reward. As Sandy Fairbairn grew up in Welland (oh, the stories he’s shared with me, that I enjoy and enlivened some of his images from the aforementioned AIH exhibition), that is a space that might, soon, host more of his photographs like this one.

Not all roads are closed forever.

More of Sandy Fairbairn’s work can be seen here and here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Adrianna Ault & Raymond Meeks | Ohio Farm Auction
December 11, 2023

Adrianna Ault & Raymond Meeks | Ohio Farm Auction

The crops we grew last summer weren’t enough to pay the loans
Couldn’t buy the seed to plant this spring and the Farmers’ Bank foreclosed
Called my old friend Schepman up, to auction off the land
He said, “John it’s just my job and I hope you understand”
Hey, calling it your job ol’ hoss, sure don’t make it right
But if you want me to I’ll say a prayer for your soul tonight
(John Mellencamp, Rain on the Scarecrow)

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. (Ecclesiastes 1:4, KJV)

There’s a memento mori quality to the scenes from the Ohio Farm Auction series. This may be an interpretation informed by several of the other bodies of work by Adrianna Ault (such as her series Levee which led me to the collaborative Ohio Farm Auction series), that are permeated by a sense of mortality and remembrance, as expressed in her writings about those images.

Though these images are not completely empty of people, the more striking and – unsurprisingly – starker moments that stay with you have no figures within them, though their absence and implication is powerful. The line I quote above, in response to this work came to mind immediately upon seeing the Township photos. Mellencamp’s album was a series of laments for a way of life lost (perhaps taken away or relinquished), as the world moves on (this last being closest, I feel, to the artists’ position here, with a gentle consideration of family history and generational change. Township reads more about releasing than resistance..)

The biblical quote came to me in a more indirect manner. Having recently read George Stewart’s post apocalyptic book Earth Abides (from 1949, so it ages poorly, in many ways – or this is perhaps a corolary to the ‘change’ implicit in the story presented in Ohio Farm Auction, of a time to gather and a time to discard), the ideas, again, of what is lost and our – humanity’s – place in the larger narrative of the earth was a further consideration when I engaged with these photographs…

The words of Adrianna Ault, speaking of this collaboration with Meeks (one of a number they’ve done) :

“These photographs were taken one February day in a rural township in Ohio. My partner, Raymond Meeks, and I photographed and watched as all the possessions of my family’s farm was auctioned to the highest bidder. Photographing served as a testimony to the life and work of over one hundred years of farming in my family. This work was published as a collaboration with Tim Carpenter and Brad Zellar in the book Township published by TIS books and later nominated for the 2018 Kassel Fotobookfestival Award.”

That collection of words and photographs has been described as a “careful deliberation on transience and the ultimate meaning of a way of life in the Midwest.”

More of Ault’s work can be seen here and more of Meek’s work can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Sibylle Bergemann | The Monument | 1975 – 1986
November 6, 2023

Sibylle Bergemann | The Monument | 1975 – 1986

Nothing seems more improbable than what people believed when this belief has gone with the wind. (Doris Lessing)

I am old enough to remember when the Berlin Wall fell and the end of the Cold War. In a fine inversion – and something that speaks to how history is often a collaborative delusion and how, at its best, art history can be the most direct and yet most subversive form of history – I would be teaching a decade or so later and have to explain to students what both of those events were, and why they still mattered. That was also a time when I reread Doris Lessing (I recommend her award winning – and divisive, to many readers and critics – book The Good Terrorist) : I had disdain for her books when I read them in my early twenties, and was surprised at how much more sense they made to me, as I had matured and gained experiences that resonated with her words, when I was older.  At that time, I was able to appreciate her words – and especially the sentiment behind them – that I quote at the start of this essay a little better….

Critic Jane Rogers (in The Guardian) described The Good Terrorist as “witty and … angry at human stupidity and destructiveness.” I must inject (as one can’t look at these images by Sibylle Bergemann and not consider the contested legacy of Marx and Engels, communism and the GDR) how I like to antagonize my christian and communist friends (not the same people, to be clear) by citing Mordecai Richler from his seminal book Solomon Gursky Was Here. In the voice of the aforementioned Gurksy, Richler avers that the system (whether the Sermon on the Mount or the Communist Manifesto) is inspired but it is humanity that is vile…

Enough tangential commentary, let’s have some facts : “From 1975 until 1986 Sibylle Bergemann accompanied the making of the huge bronze of Marx and Engels in Gummlin / Usedom from the first sketches to the installation. The work, which was created by the sculptor Ludwig Engelhardt, is still located near the Alexanderplatz in Berlin-Mitte.” There has been controversy about this monument, as Germany struggles with its past as defined in the present, whether it be the theoretical space of Marxism or that the GDR was one of the most repressive states in the 20th century. Monuments, after all, occupy both physical space and conceptual ground in any national imaginary.

In tandem with this, I’d suggest watching the ‘tragicomedy’ film Goodbye, Lenin : “the story follows a family in East Germany (GDR); the mother is dedicated to the socialist cause and falls into a coma in October 1989, shortly before the November revolution. When she awakens eight months later in June 1990, her son attempts to protect her from a fatal shock by concealing the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism in East Germany.” A majority of that film was shot where this sculpture is located, at the Marx – Engels Forum.

First as tragedy, then as farce, ahem, someone (okay, Engels, ahem) said….

Bergemann’s words about her art and aesthetic : “I am interested in the edges of the world, not the center. The incompatible is crucial material for me. When something isn’t right about faces or landscapes that doesn’t quite fit…”

As of this writing, I am also working on an Artist You Need To Know post about the Mexican photographer Lola Álvarez Bravo (1903 – 1993). Bravo’s words also apply to Bergemann’s Monument series : “If anything is useful about my photography, it will be the sense of being a chronicle of my country.”

But I don’t approach this without bias : my stance can be seen in the primary image I’ve chosen, where the figures are ‘missing’ their heads, like a reversal of Shelley’s Ozymandius, where only the legs remain of his forgotten ‘king’….

More about this project can be seen here and more of Bergemann’s photographs can be enjoyed here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Gerald Slota | Home Sweet Home | 2010
October 30, 2023

Gerald Slota | Home Sweet Home | 2010
(in collaboration with Neil LaBute)

Welcome to the midnight America, the one that exists parallel to the “real” world. It’s a dark country, one where men with hooks haunt Lover’s Lane and scarecrows walk on moonlit nights. It’s the place where people go when they slip into the cracks between light and darkness, a world of routewitches and oracles, demons and ambulomancers. 

The rules are different here, and everyone’s playing for keeps. Be careful. Be cautious. And listen to the urban legends, because they may be the only things that can save you from the man who waits at the crossroads, hunting souls to keep himself alive.
Welcome to the ghostside.

Home Sweet Home is a collaboration between Gerald Slota and playwright Neil Labute. Introduced to each other in 2008, they began corresponding and working together (via email, for the most part, as they did not actually meet in person until – fittingly – an exhibition of this work in New York City in October 2010.) From the statement about Home Sweet Home : “For the first time Slota’s visual narratives are aligned alongside written narratives. The series title serves as an ironic reference to much of the early material’s dark focus on themes of home and family.”

The world that Slota and LaBute present us with is the descendant – a successor, in some ways – of the sites and landmarks from Michael Lesy’ The Wisconsin Death Trip. Denizens of a desperate world, sometimes leading lives of ‘quiet desperation’ (but not always, as secrets fester and explode, unable to be contained forever, just as some of the ‘narrators’ of these images must share what they have held inside….)

I also interpret these as postcards from the characters in Harmony Korine’s infamous film Gummo (1997) : a ‘loose narrative follows several main characters who find odd and destructive ways to pass time, interrupted by vignettes depicting other inhabitants of the town.’ That descriptor could apply to Home Sweet Home as well as Korine’s experimental film….

LaBute – whose words offer an unsettling nuance and depth to Slota’s images here – has also observed that “we humans are a fairly barbarous bunch”…..

This isn’t a new concept—the idea that stories change things, rewrite the past and rewrite reality at the same time…

The true secret of the palimpsest skin of America is that every place is different, and every place is the same. That’s the true secret of the entire world, I’d guess, but I don’t have access to the world. All I have is North America, where the coyotes sing the moon down every night, and the rattlesnakes whisper warnings through the canyons.
The true secret of the skin of America is that it’s barely covered by the legends and lies that it clothes itself in, sitting otherwise naked and exposed.

More of Gerald Slota’s work can be enjoyed here. Slota was also a recently featured Artist You Need To Know from AIH Studios’ continuing series : that can be enjoyed here.

All italicized quotes are from Seanan McGuire‘s books Sparrow Hill Road (2014) and Girl in the Green Silk Gown (2018) from her Ghost Road series. In these stories the urban legend of ‘Resurrection Mary‘ is told from the point of view of the dead girl Rose Marshall who’s been wandering the highways and back roads of a ‘secret’ United States of America since her death in 1952….

~ Bart Gazzola

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Dimitri Tsykalov | MEAT | 2007 – 2008
July 28, 2023

Dimitri Tsykalov | MEAT | 2007 – 2008

It’s not a new idea that firearms make acts of violence ‘too easy’, almost ‘antiseptic’, as they minimize the necessary physical contact intrinsic to other acts of brutality. This is an idea that’s been raised about technology since we began using it to kill each other.

(At the risk of seeming flippant, I must also inject a quote that came to mind when I first encountered images of Tsykalov’s MEAT : Invariably, the first question asked about a new technology is, “Can this make killing less of a hassle?” The second being, “Can I have sex with it?”…)

The implicit ‘removal’ or ‘remoteness’ (I’m reminded of the ski pole scene from Timothy Findley’s The Wars, for example, where the firearm and act of murder almost seem separate from the character himself) makes it almost a ‘trivial’ or ‘throwaway’ action to fire a gun.

Dimitri Tsykalov’s MEAT works offer a counter to that, in a grotesque manner that is excessive : I’ve debated writing about Tsykalov’s ‘armaments’ for a while, unsure if they’re too flippant, or too horrifying, or a combination of both that is as unpalatable as gripping cold flesh while your hands are stained and overrun with effluvia…

These works don’t pretend to an aesthetic distance (like in Serrano’s work, or some other artists I’ve talked about here who – like myself, when I worked with fat, bone and meat for over two decades – are interested in creating inappropriately beautiful artwork) :  I feel that Tsykalov takes pleasure in our revulsion and wants to evoke it from us, and considering what he’s ‘butchering’ the meat, flesh and bone into, this is not inappropriate. There’s a swagger here, a bravado that intends to make us ill. Meat and guns are, after all, metaphors for penises or toxic masculinity, and Tsykalov alludes to that (even with the titles that reference specific guns).

Tsykalov, in creating work that intersects with brutality and our capacity for it, as a species, has taken an opposing artistic path to someone like Ralph Ziman with The Ghosts Project (a past Curator’s Pick you can see here).

Tsykalov’s own words : “In these pictures I recognize the murderers within me, I recognize love and death within me; in these pictures I recognize my flesh as the cannon fodder it is and will be for the rest of my life. In contrast the secondary meat in these shots – the one that rots and that kills, the animal meat that is used to create the fleshy weapons – seems unscathed, sanguine and elegiac. It is incredibly alive, it is cannon flesh and we are already mortal.”

Dimitri Tsykalov was born in Moscow (1963) where he attended Polygraphic Institute of Moscow (1982-1988). He currently lives and works in Paris.

More of his work can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Dave Jordano | For Sale – America, Westside, Detroit, 2020, from his A Detroit Nocturne Series
March 2, 2023

Dave Jordano | For Sale – America, Westside, Detroit, 2020, from his A Detroit Nocturne Series

In the West, the past is very close. In many places, it still believes it’s the present. (John Masters)

Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus | We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes. (City of Detroit’s motto)

The city makes you; in a million little ways it makes you, and you can’t unmake yourself from it. (Craig Davidson, Cataract City)

Detroit is nothing if not a physical site of contested narratives: having lived in Windsor – Detroit for a half dozen years, the mythology and the reality of that city was something I was exposed to as I was just beginning to mature as an artist and writer, and that city (whether through the Detroit Institute of Arts or the stereotypes of the rust belt wonderlands, the legacy of the riots and so much malfeasance on the part of supposed stakeholders that layer ruin upon ruin) played a large part in my development. Eight Mile Road is not just a song by Eminem, but a real place, with real people, to me.

It’s unsurprising to find out that Jordano is from Detroit: his portraits of the city suggest an affection and an affinity that is more personal, and that he connects with his subjects – whether people or places – in a manner that is more gentle, despite the harshness of the locus he captures, often being abandoned, or the stark industrial lights that help define his scenes. Or perhaps it’s more like one of my favourite books about place and memory, where Craig Davidson talks about how “the most awful thing about living as an adult on the same streets where you grew up? It’s so easy to remember how perfect it was supposed to be. Reminders were always smacking you in the face. Good things happened—sure, I knew that. They just happened in other places.”

Jordano’s own words about this series are as follows: “I chose to make these images at night not only to put more emphasis on their surroundings, but also because I wanted to introduce a moment of quiet and calm reflection. These nighttime landscapes seem unfamiliar and therefore provoke contemplation. Pieces of the past, present, and future are rendered here to be carefully considered. They are, after all, the physical evidence of the city where we once carved our collective ambitions and lived out our dreams.”

I must inject more words – to augment or challenge Jordano’s own – from  Craig Davidson’s Cataract City here: “Most of us in Cataract City were hard because the place built you that way. It asked you to follow a particular line and if you didn’t, well, you went and lived someplace else. But if you stayed, you lived hard, and when you died you went into the ground that way: hard.”

Much more of Jordano’s work can be enjoyed at his site as well as on Instagram.

His extensive body of work – under the title of A Detroit Nocturne – can be viewed here.

 

~ Bart Gazzola

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The Great Texas Road Story | Stephen Hood
February 25, 2023

The Great Texas Road Story | Stephen Hood
IG: @thegreattexasroadstory 
https://www.thegreattexasroadstory.com/

I refuse to remember the dead.
And the dead are bored with the whole thing.
But you — you go ahead,
go on, go on back down
into the graveyard,
lie down where you think their faces are;
talk back to your old bad dreams.
(Anne Sexton, A Curse Against Elegies)

Well, I see your light’s still on, so I guess you must be out there. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk, you know. I don’t want to talk either, sometimes. I just like to stay silent. (Nastassja Kinski | Jane Henderson, from the film Paris, Texas)

The scenes that make up The Great Texas Road Story are cinematic. This is not just the nature of the vignettes captured, but that encountering this work on IG, it is like a continuing tale, with missives ‘sent’ to us, like an ongoing conversation or ‘postcards’ in a continuing narrative….

They have a quality of scouting locations for a film, but I will admit that I’m bringing in my subjective response, again.

Looking at some of these, I’m – obviously, due to the title of the endeavour – reminded of the fine cinematography of the film Paris, Texas, by Robby Müller. But I’m also reminded of the television series Carnivàle, where a travelling carnival trudges across the United States amidst the arid dustiness and despair of the Dust Bowl Depression. Like the moments photographer Stephen Hood presents in The Great Texas Road Story, the episodes in that series are named after the small towns they traverse – and it all starts in Marfa, Texas, in an odd synchronicity to Hood’s travels around Texas for this project. Looking at the site for The Great Texas Road Story, empty places like Spur and Snyder might be Marfa – or vice versa.

And in the end, these places – despite their evocative physical presence captured by Hood – are also characters in a story, repositories for memories and ideas both personal and more public.

The Great Texas Road Story is an ongoing photography project devoted to the authentic small Texas town. I aim to continue to artistically capture the places in Texas I find compelling and to share that work here.

This photography project began organically in June 2020, when suddenly, I had to get out of town with my girlfriend, as we hadn’t left our tiny Austin apartment in months, and we needed to do something. Had to go. So we booked a campsite at the state park and headed out west to camp in the Davis Mountains near Marfa. A good ole Texas road trip (soothes the soul) was soon underway. 
Our first stop was San Angelo, where we saw a porcupine. I brought an old camera and started photographing the landscape of Texas. I hadn’t picked up a camera in months, but from then on, we were on the road every other weekend documenting all of the small towns along the way. 
I only moonlight as a Texas documentarian…It is in my spare time that I lovingly chronicle a disappearing Texas.” (Stephen Hood)

That’s an excerpt of Hood’s description of this work, and more of his images can be seen here: but you’ll be able to enjoy more of these moments if you give The Great Texas Road Story a follow on Instagram here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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Krydor, SK | Danny Singer, 2014
February 17, 2023

Krydor, SK | Danny Singer, 2014

I would walk to the end of the street and over the prairie with the clickety grasshoppers bunging in arcs ahead of me, and I could hear the hum and twang of wind in the great prairie harp of telephone wires. Standing there with the total thrust of prairie sun on my vulnerable head, I guess I learned — at a very young age — that I was mortal.
W. O. Mitchell, Who Has Seen The Wind

I first encountered Danny Singer’s work in an exhibition in Saskatoon curated to mark the centennial of the province at the Mendel Art Gallery. Most of the artists included had celebratory discourses at play about the place in their work, but there were a few more factual as regards the history – and present –  of that province. The Mendel Art Gallery (now the Remai Modern), under the curatorial eye of Dan Ring at that time, often eschewed banal propaganda for more real dialogue, as with the 2002 exhibition Edward Poitras: Qu’Appelle: Tales of Two Valleys. That exhibition’s title “refers to two valleys: a metaphor for the way First Nations and colonists, both past and present, constructed and experienced nature, spirituality, and culture through the physical reality of the Qu’Appelle.” (from the curatorial statement for the exhibition by Dan Ring).
This also acts as another ‘place’ to stand and consider Singer’s ‘sites’, too.

Singer’s works have an element of the performative: if you’ve ever been to the small towns – or similar ones – he’s documented in Saskatchewan and Alberta, you know that they are sparse, spaced and dying, if not already dusty corpses featured in a form of photographic nostalgia that has an element of necrophilia. 

Other works in this series shift the camera so that the sky dominates the majority of the composition, so solid and blue it looks hammered into place, with clouds moving like the ocean, and the towns almost miniscule below all of this. Mitchell’s sentiment about the transience of humanity in the face of the eternity of nature is at play in those works, too.

“In Singer’s large-scale composite photographs, there is a real tension between the assumptions of photography as a medium­ – the fixed point of the camera, capturing a single moment in time – and the reality of the artist’s process, which takes hours and involves hundreds of vantage points. To the viewer, the photographs have a collapsing effect: the passage of time witnessed in a single glance.

The Vancouver-based artist has spent fifteen years photographing the main streets of small towns and hamlets across the prairies and plains of North America, drawing attention to the rural, agricultural communities on which Canada’s economy was built. In these large-scale works, strings of vernacular buildings are dwarfed by a dynamic sky, which fills the visual field. Out of the frame, one can imagine the horizontal repetition of this diminishing effect—farmland stretching hundreds of miles in either direction.” (from Galleries West)

More of Singer’s work can be seen here.

~ Bart Gazzola

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The Polaroid Book : Selections from the Polaroid Collections of Photography
January 5, 2023

The Polaroid Book : Selections from the Polaroid Collections of Photography
Edited by Steve Crist, Essay by Barbara Hitchcock
Taschen 2005

As a photographer, and especially as one who has shot a lot of instant film, I could wax poetic about the wonders of the Polaroid film process; that it was invented in 1947 by Edwin Land and his Polaroid Corporation; that he formed a partnership with Ansel Adams to explore the artistic capabilities of the medium in 1948; that Land and the Corporation made hundreds of cameras and film available to artists around the world on the condition that they gave some of their images to Polaroid’s collection of photos. I could tell you that it was THE photographic medium of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and that creating a photo was indeed as easy as “Push, pull!”. However, there are so many writers and photographers out there who have extolled the virtues of the process over the last 75 years that I can’t possibly say anything new.

The Polaroid Book : Selections from the Polaroid Collections of Photography tells the story in 254 photographs by 203 artists. The photos include black and white documentary and landscape images taken with the cumbersome early models of the Polaroid line of cameras to incredibly immersive large format color images made by celebrated artists and fashion photographers. The creativity in these polaroids is boundless. From Adams to Warhol with a little Close and Hockney in between, Polaroids were a tool used by well (and lesser) known artists to create stunning pieces of work. Chuck Close’s Self-portrait (seen below) stands out; a mosaic made up of 9 separate images to create a large, somewhat disjointed selfie in Close’s trademark (and usually painted) style.

Perusing this book will lead you to want to try capturing this photo-magic yourself, which you can do by using Fujifilm’s Instax line of film and cameras. Anecdotal evidence points to these colourful, well designed cameras acting as lures to teens everywhere to further explore the possibility available to them in analog photography as a creative outlet. It is one of the reasons that film sales are quickly growing again after years of domination of the market by digital photography.

The Polaroid Book is available from numerous online and bricks-and-mortar retailers.

~ Mark Walton

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Jane Evelyn Atwood | TOO MUCH TIME: WOMEN IN PRISON, 2000
November 25, 2022

Jane Evelyn Atwood, TROP DE PEINES: FEMMES EN PRISON, 2000, Éditions Albin Michel, Paris, France. (OUT OF PRINT)
Jane Evelyn Atwood, TOO MUCH TIME: WOMEN IN PRISON, 2000, Phaidon Press Ltd., London, England. (OUT OF PRINT)

“Curiosity was the initial spur. Surprise, shock and bewilderment soon took over. Rage propelled me along to the end.”

Too many times – and I’m sure I’m not alone in this – I have heard some well meaning dilettante assert that ‘art should be about beauty’ or ‘should only uplift us.’ In terms of that space where photography intersects with ideas of art and documentary – and not to mention history – something that comforts you is most likely wrong, if not simply pablum. When I’m sharing images on social media, there are some photographers I hesitate to post works from (as photography still carries the weight of being more ‘real’, thus can ‘offend’ as well as see yourself banned from those platforms): Gilles Peress is one of those, for his unflinching lens in places from Rwanda to the former Yugoslavia (“I don’t trust words. I trust pictures”), Gordon W. Gahan (specifically his images of the Vietnam War), Donna Ferrato (I was lucky enough to experience her groundbreaking series Living with the Enemy decades ago, in Windsor) or Martha Rosler (her House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home works that had their genesis in response to the Vietnam War (c.1967–72) but that she ‘revisited’ in 2004 and 2008, ‘updating’ them to Iraq and Afghanistan).

But the text I’ve selected for a Library Pick is something that is not ‘there’ but ‘here’, and in that respect is often – easily, repeatedly – ignored.

Jane Evelyn Atwood’s “monumental work on female incarceration, published in both French and English, took Atwood to forty prisons in nine different countries in Europe, Eastern Europe, and the United States. The access she managed to obtain inside some of the world’s worst penitentiaries and jails, including death row, make this ten-year undertaking the definitive photographic work on women in prison to date. Extensive texts include interviews with inmates and prison staff as well as Atwood’s own reminiscences and observations. The prize-winning photos in this book, including the story of an incarcerated woman giving birth while handcuffed, established Jane Evelyn Atwood as one of today’s leading documentary photographers.” (from her site)

Atwood has always used her camera as a means to tell stories too often not even dismissed but denied, and she has granted a level of dignity and consideration to those whom are too often not considered human but detritus.

A good friend is a theologian, but of the liberation theology vein: I enjoy talking with them, as their righteous anger is only matched by their ability to quote that repeatedly translated and edited text with a sense of the public good. I mention them as they once pointed out that in the New Testament, only one person was promised a place in the ‘kingdom of heaven’, and that was one of the criminals being crucified at the same time as Jesus.

In a more modern sense, I might cite Lutheran Minister (and ‘public theologian’) Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s contemporary addendum to the beatitudes, which include ‘Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working.’

Atwood published ten books of her work and been awarded the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, the Grand Prix Paris Match for Photojournalism, the Oskar Barnack Award, the Alfred Eisenstadt Award and the Hasselblad Foundation Grant twice.

More of Atwood’s work can be seen here.

Like several of the books I’ve recommended, this is one I came across in my local library.

~ Bart Gazzola

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